Michael Bastasch on September 30, 2015
A federal district court judge has sided with the petroleum industry and granted an injunction against enforcing the Obama administration regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal lands.
“At this point, the Court does not believe Congress has granted or delegated to the [Bureau of Land Management] authority to regulate fracking,” Judge Scott Skavdahl, an Obama appointee, wrote in his preliminary injunction against the Department of the Interior.
“[I]t cannot be concluded that because Congress has not expressly forbidden the BLM’s regulation of hydraulic fracturing on federal lands, the agency may now assert it,” Skavdahl added.
In March, the Interior Department issued regulations for fracking operations on federal lands, setting standards for cement casings of fracked wells, public disclosure of the chemicals used in the fracking process, more stringent wastewater storage standards and mandating that companies give geographical data to the government.
The rule was welcomed by environmentalists, but immediately sued by a group of states and the oil and gas industry. Now, after months of battling it out in the courts, opponents of the rule have successfully put the brakes on the administration’s plan to clamp down on drilling.
“We are pleased to see Judge Skavdahl agrees with our reasonable request to first hear the merits of our case before this final federal rule goes into effect,” said Jeff Eshelman, lead spokesman for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
States and the petroleum industry argued Interior’s fracking rules were duplicative of state regulations and that the department lacked explicit congressional authority to regulate the well-stimulation process.
Opponents also argued Interior’s rule was “a reaction to unsubstantiated concerns” about fracking’s environmental impacts on groundwater supplies — which even the EPA has failed to substantiate. Eshelman said they “requested the regulations be set aside because the administrative record lacks the factual, scientific, or engineering evidence necessary to sustain the agency’s action.”
“Today’s decision essentially shows BLM’s efforts are not needed and that states are — and have for 60 years been — in the best position to safely regulate hydraulic fracturing,” Eshelman said.
Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into shale formations about a mile below groundwater aquifers to access hydrocarbons. Environmentalists say the practice contaminates groundwater, but to date, there has been no evidence of the fracking process itself contaminating groundwater — though faulty well casings have been tied to some leaks.
Interior’s opponents pointed out that over-regulating fracking would only serve to hamper oil and gas production on federal lands — it’s been lagging behind booming production on state and private lands. Government regulations and laws already block access to 19 billion barrels of oil and 94.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.